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Bloom time: Seed bank to help line state roadways with wildflowers

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A new Wildflower Seed Bank at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will produce native seeds for planting along highways, interstates, welcome centers and state parks.

The seed bank is housed inside a 10,000-square-foot former dairy barn at UL Lafayette’s Experimental Farm near Cade, La. It was dedicated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday at the farm, which is located about 15 miles from the University’s main campus.

The building contains research labs; processing, storage and distribution spaces; equipment; and dehumidified walk-in storage units.

“The Wildflower Seed Bank will enhance the farm’s mission to provide research that helps Louisiana’s vital agricultural industry. It also represents the University’s commitment to sustainability and to caring for the environment.” said Dr. Joseph Savoie, University president.

Wildflower cultivation and planting are part of an ongoing Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development effort to spruce up state roadways and to reduce mowing costs and emissions.

An added bonus? Wildflowers attract tourists, said Joshua Hollins, LaDOTD legislative director.

About 1 million people, for example, travel to Texas each year to view its wildflowers.

Two native flowers – plains tickseed and clasping coneflower – grow on 22 acres at the 600-acre farm. Native Louisiana seeds increase the likelihood that flowers will bloom along state roadsides year after year.

Mark Simon, the farm’s operations manager, said more varieties will be added in the future.

There are seven types of soil at the farm. Tickseed and coneflower seed are planted primarily on one- to two-acre parcels. This will help researchers ascertain which regions of the farm yield the best results.

“It’s provides a good representative sample of soil types and of growing conditions over time,” Simon explained.

Spring and fall are the best time of year to plant wildflowers.

Simon estimates that eventually the seed bank will be able to produce about 2,000 pounds of seed per year.

One pound of harvested plains tickseed produces about 1 million seeds. One pound of harvested clasping cornflowers produces about 750,000 seeds.

The new seed bank is the culmination of more than a decade of work and planning.

In 2005, UL Lafayette, UL Monroe and Southeastern Louisiana University partnered to secure a $1.7 million federal highway beautification grant administered by LaDOTD.

About $940,000 of the grant funded renovations, and the addition of 5,000 square feet, to the former dairy barn. Equipment for cultivation, processing and storage of seed was also purchased.

Research conducted at the facility will focus on increasing yield and improving strategies for storage that should keep seeds usable for at least a decade.

The seed bank will enable faculty and students from the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences to conduct research in a range of areas, including biology, ecology and environmental science.

Scientists from University research centers such as the Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology and the Institute for Coastal Water Research will also use the Wildflower Seed Bank.

Photo: Mark Simon, operations manager at UL Lafayette’s Experimental Farm, demonstrates how wildflower seeds are filtered according to size as part of a demonstration at the farm on Tuesday.

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